Having Children for Dinner

I am traveling for a few days, and I have a few thoughts about bringing young children to dinner. For the past three nights I have been at tables with very young children. The ages have ranged from newborns to about age 3. I have nothing against bringing children to dinner. As a parent myself I often brought my children along to dinner.  However, I tried to be mindful of the other diners. There are a few simple rules to make this a more enjoyable experience for everyone. The parents I have seen over the past few days haven’t a clue how to dine with a young child.

Kitty's mom, showing the proper behavior for young children at a meal.

I was eating at a Red Lobster Wednesday night. Now that isn’t a very fancy restaurant and one would assume it is a place where children might be brought along to eat. However, this was at 10pm at night. The place was packed with babies and young children. The children were tired. I kept thinking “this is a weeknight, and some of these children surely will be going to daycare or preschool the next day!” The behavior of the children reflected their exhaustion. My rule was eat as early as possible. Children have greater control over their behavior when they are not tired out.

Make sure your child is comfortable. One very young baby was crying and crying. The parents were simply ignoring the newborn. You could tell they just wanted a night out.  Babysitters are very expensive, and not everyone has family they can leave a baby with.  Still, there was something wrong with this baby. The best way to figure out what’s wrong is to think like a baby. I looked at what the baby was looking at. Sure enough there was a bright overhead light shining right in the poor baby’s eyes.  I simply went over and moved the baby carrier slightly, while saying “Oh I noticed that light was shining right in your her face.” The parents were very nice, and said “oh, we didn’t notice, we’re new to this baby stuff.”

Thursday night I ate at a very nice Mexican restaurant. Once again, it was nearly 10pm. Sure enough, I was seated next to a young family. Baby and toddler were both giving the entire restaurant a vocal accompaniment to their meals. The parents were using the totally useless method of saying “shh shh” between bites of their own meals. I reached over and handed the toddler my spoon. I told him “it’s a car”. Soon, the spoon was zooming around the table. While the toddler was still making noise, it was not wild screams and he seemed much happier.

When I took my children out to eat I had a survival bag. Matchbox cars, Cheerios (it’s hard to wait for food when you are hungry), little plastic animals, small board books. If my child began to make too much noise, it was OUT of the restaurant.  It never mattered if my own meal was there. The child was out of the restaurant until I felt the child could return. If upon returning the child was again loud, it was out for good with the food packed up. With my children, it only took one time of having to leave (and no ice cream dessert) before they got to be quiet in restaurants. Children are very fast learners. Are some parents are too lazy or selfish to sacrifice one or two meals to teach them this valuable lesson? I cringe when I hear a parent say “Hey, I paid for this, I’m eating it.  Why should I take my kid out?” They don’t understand a little sacrifice on their part means a child that will be wonderful to take out with them in the future.  Just not at 10pm at night, please!

A great reference for bringing up children as polite, contributing members of society who know how to eat with their mouths closed and not use other people’s legs as kicking posts: Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children

Categories: Food, Friends, Travel

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6 replies

  1. I agree with you totally! Going to a restaurant for dinner is still a treat for me, and it’s almost always a disappointment to be seated near a family with small, noisy children – especially later in the evening, as you did. I appreciate your suggestions, and will incorporate them the next time I’m in a similar situation!

  2. Quite often, there is a backlash against people who say kids should be kept quiet, bolstered by a view that “kids have rights, too”. Yes, yes, they do. When they can participate in society in a manner where they can respect OTHER people’s rights.

    I once attended a movie where a toddler was throwing a screaming tantrum in the aisle. The mother watched the movie while holding on to the kid’s hand. When I asked her to leave the theater, so other people could watch in peace, she told me she had paid for her ticket and had a ‘right’ to watch the movie, as well. I had to find a manager.

  3. Just had a twitter rant about this. People appeared to be using it as an excuse to moan about children in any environment they happen to be in at the time. Quotes were along the lines of ‘I have left the restaurant before’, ‘I ask to be seated as far away as possible’, inappropriate place for children’.

    I take the point above with regard to unskilled parenting, and that’s a very different thing to wilfully brash, coarse behaviour overall. But otherwise I’m disappointed by the tone.

    In mediterranean countries it is perfectly normal for children to accompany their parents late at night and everyone appears to manage perfectly happily. If yo happen for example to be the parent of a child with learning disability or other developmental disorder is it really ok for everyone to give them a hard time while they’re trying to have a life?

    All seems a little shallow and solipsistic to me, but then I have two very lovely, well-behaved children.

    • You’re reading a lot into this. She never mentioned anything about disabled children, and wasn’t talking about Mediterranean countries who live on different time schedules than most Americans. This was specifically about teaching children how to behave when they are old enough to learn, and providing a means to keep them entertained, or comfortable, or distracted when they are not. The “people” who you weren interacting with happen to be very considerate people.

      It’s not be shallow to expect the table beside you behave appropriately to the circumstance. There are people who will ignore their squealing children, and since they may have more than one, it’s not a measure of being unskilled as parents. Most parents don’t allow their children to run amongst the tables while they keep sipping their coffee.

  4. You do of course understand that an LD child isn’t immediately recognisable or diagnosable by sight (unless of course they have three heads…)

    The people who I ‘weren’t interacting with’ – who could you mean? I didn’t realise twitter was a closed conversation or have I misunderstood the DM button?

    I am more than aware that in general they are very nice people, that is not the point. The point is they were engaging in what I felt to be quite distasteful and judgemental behaviour and broad generalisations that would I hope normally would be beneath them. Try supplementing gay men, or black people for children in their statements and see how proud you would be of their behaviour.

    My point is that yes, on occasion one may be able to offer a gentle assist and feel very superior when the child responds. I have done this countless times in clinical practice however you should bear in mind children will often respond differently with someone who is a stranger and with whom they are unable to feel entirely safe. But you can’t always know why the child, or indeed the parent is behaving in that way, on that day.

  5. I am a preschool teacher. We are expected to introduce children to reading, writing and social skills. In fact, the teachers I work with agree with me that social skills are a top priority. We have children that are ADHD, we have children with Down’s Syndrome, we have children that are deaf. (There is an exclusive deaf preschool that shares the campus and we help both hearing and deaf children learn to play together with respect and consideration). There is also a safety issue in having children know some basic rules for being a nice restaurant. A child just running (and indeed some children can not be expected to sit for an extended period of time) can knock over a waiter carrying a hot dish or coffee and be burned. An owner of a restaurant can lose customers and money if people walk out because a child is screaming loudly. All I am saying in that the child is not at fault. Parents should know the limits their child has, and if the child needs to run, how about a restaurant with an outdoor eating area where a child can get up and walk or even run a bit? How about going when the chlid is well rested and more able to learn the basic social skills all children need to learn? How about making the experience of dining out as pleasurable for the child as it is for adults? Children love trying new food, trying to read basic words, putting a “real” napkin in their lap. It should be a learning experience. Yes parents need a break, but sadly most parents with a child that perhaps isn’t quite ready for the restaurant experience, end up frustrated and unhappy. I think children, with a little preparation and interaction from parents, can eat at any restaurant. Trust me, my children learned to love lobster and shrimp cocktail at an early age! A Shirley Temple drink with an umbrella? They were in heaven! At the preschool we have “fancy” snack time once a month where parents are invited to come if they wish. Real napkins, real silver ware, table cloths, holding out chairs, taking orders (the children love it when it is their time to be waiter), please and thank you, classic music, even candles! ALL the children, LD and deaf and just the
    “can’t sit still “types have a great time and parents report that when they take their 3-5 year old out to dinner the children remember the “rules” they learned in preschool. And I should like to say, parents on planes with small children get ALL my respect and sympathy. I’ve been the mom with the child that cries because of ear pain! (And I’ve had people tell me I should not take such a small child on a plane, and have explained “We’re going to her grandfather’s funeral and her grandmother asked especially for all her grandchildren to be there.”). So the bets are OFF with plane flying! Just give the parents a smile and say “I’ve been there and they grow up!”

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